The use and future of public libraries across the UK and Ireland

The Carnegie UK Trust has published the Shining a Light report series to provide an insight into how people in England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales use public libraries and what they think of them.

The report consists of:

  • Policy report which contains the lessons from the data and recommendations for policy makers, decision makers, funders and the sector
  • Data booklet which gives the data and big picture ‘headline findings’ from across all jurisdictions
  • Five country factsheets which show how England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are faring
  • Secondary research by Ipsos MORI which compares the findings from the Carnegie UK Trust research with those of existing research.

Key statistics

  • Around half of people use the library in each jurisdiction
  • Over two-fifths of library users in each jurisdiction use the library at least once every month
  • Around three-quarters of people in each jurisdiction say libraries important to the community
  • Around two-fifths of people in each jurisdiction say libraries important to themselves personally
  • Over half of people in each jurisdiction say that providing better information on what services libraries offer would encourage personal library use
  • 21% to 30% of people across the five jurisdictions who rarely or never read books use the library.

Public libraries as an enabler

The report advises that public libraries are an enabler, giving individuals the opportunity to fulfill their potential, live fuller lives, make more of what they have, discover new worlds, and aspire to greater things.

As an enabler, public libraries contribute to economic, social, cultural and educational policy goals, improving people’s wellbeing in ways that are often unseen or unrecognised, as shown in the following diagram (click to enlarge).

Libraries and wellbeing


Public libraries have the ability to contribute to individual and community wellbeing and to many of the priorities of local and national government. Despite considerable pressures, public libraries are in a strong position.

Moving forward, library services and their advocates need to be future focused and outward looking, and resist the temptation to embrace a backwards-looking ethos. Advocates need to decide and determine how public libraries can make a difference — and where they can make more of a difference — to ensure that public libraries are seen as part of the solution to what it is communities, policy makers, funders and decision makers are seeking to achieve.

Demonstrate value to policy makers, decision makers and funders to maximise public and other investment

  • Library services to align services with community needs and the priorities and policies of funders and public policy decision makers
  • Local authorities and national governments to renew their focus on how their library services can help them deliver a wide range of their policy goals
  • Local authorities, policy makers and representative bodies13 to continue to undertake detailed research and work to support libraries to more effectively demonstrate their impact in relation to national and local policy goals and frameworks
  • Local authorities, policy makers, representative bodies and library services to explore the best ways of using data to demonstrate libraries’ impact
  • When presented with evidence, local and national governments to engage with the data and provide support where appropriate
  • Progress on all national library strategies should be monitored closely and subject to parliamentary scrutiny
  • Refreshed strategies should be developed according to the appropriate timescales in each jurisdiction.

Increase focus on tailored, personalised services whilst maintaining a focus on delivering a universal service

  • Representative bodies and library services to discuss and debate the balance between universal and tailored offers and identify ways forward
  • Local authorities, representative bodies and library services to explore effective and targeted communication and promotion of both universal and tailored services to specific target groups
  • Policy makers, representative bodies, library services and national and local governments to explore how librarians develop their role as advocates for citizens’ rights in relation to how their data is protected online
  • Libraries to further develop and be recognised as community-based expert resource to help people maximise the advantages of the digital world and minimise its risks
  • Library services to use data and insight to identify why different groups engage with the library to facilitate the tailoring of offers and targeting of communication.

Accelerate the development of a user-centred, data rich service with a strong online presence

  • Library services to strengthen their use of data to proactively develop and improve services for users and to attract non-users in a way that protects users and fits within data protection protocol
  • Library services, policy makers and local authorities to look at improving data sharing across services in order to develop services in a way that protects users and fits within data protection protocols
  • Policy makers, representative bodies and library services to explore the best ways of using data to demonstrate impact
  • Policy makers to explore and test the possibility of a Single Digital Presence for public libraries in England and including other jurisdictions if possible.

Invest in value-based innovation, leadership and outcomes-based partnerships

  • Library services to reaffirm and embed core values
  • Library services to explore ways of cultivating innovative ideas within the service and in conversation with organisations outside the sector
  • Library services to inculcate a culture where learning, innovation and challenge is rewarded
  • Library leadership, representative bodies and local authorities should consider how they can continue to support the development of leadership and innovation across all tiers of the public library workforce
  • Local and national governments and voluntary organisations to explore the value of partnering with public libraries to deliver services and outcomes
  • Trusts, foundations and governments to provide investment to support leadership and innovation.

Enhance learning between libraries and across jurisdictions

  • Library leadership and representative bodies, Trusts and Foundations should consider how best to support cross-jurisdictional learning across all levels of the library service.

Acknowledgement: Use of the text of Shining a light is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Header image source: Carnegie UK Trust.

Originally published at RealKM.

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